Tree of Life Synagogue.
Murder of eleven by Robert Bowers. A crazed white supremacist.
He hated Jews because they support refugees.
What can we say? Nothing. And everything all over again.
Grief in Pittsburgh and Beyond
The North American Jewish world is small. We are a sort of networked village. So, all of us have some connection to the event.
My husband grew up in Pittsburgh, for example. His father attended Tree of Life as a child. So, when we were in town for our nephew’s wedding, we went there on Shabbat.
Some of our Pittsburgh friends were on their way to services. Thus, they narrowly escaped the automatic gunfire.
Our Pittsburgh cousin spoke on network television. He talked about each of the victims. And about how he will honour them through tikkun olam. Literally, that means “world repair.” Specifically, acts of social justice and loving kindness.
The next night, my husband wailed and cried in his sleep.
Religious Pluralism in Response to Pittsburgh
Every spiritual leader I know issued a statement. So, I’ve received letters of support from friends and colleagues. Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Church clergy. Shia and Sunni Muslims. Sikh, Baha’i, Hindu, and Buddhist teachers. Indigenous leaders.
Why? Because spiritual communities are natural allies. We work together to heal, feed, and welcome others. So, I have written about religious pluralism.
Religious pluralism is alive and well. The multi-faith response has been strong.
Antisemitism Has Always Been Around
Of course our Jewish community is shocked. By this act in this place and time.
But we are not shocked by the rise of antisemitism. Of course, I’ve written about modern antisemitism.
Over a hundred years ago, my great grand-parents barely escaped Russia with their lives. I’ve told my great-grandfather’s stories. But in New York City, too, my family was assaulted. Even in academic circles, colleagues have ridiculed me. At times, they’ve excluded me.
For years, I worked in Jewish communal service. Thus, I was trained in security procedures. My workplace was open all week. But it was always locked. To enter, you pressed the buzzer. Office staff decided who to let in. They were trained in security, too.
On the High Holidays, police checked in on us. Security guards searched us at the door. But not on Shabbat. Shabbat services are always open to all. So, I’ve written about the beauty of Shabbat hospitality.
Propaganda and the Pittsburgh Shooter
This mass shooting was a political act. Bowers himself said so.
On the one hand, he acted alone. No other shooters worked with him.
But of course he did not act alone. Other anti-semites inspired him. Self-interested, calculating people. Too shrewd to get arrested themselves. They don’t pick up guns. Instead, they hold rallies and post on social media. Then, they call for violence.
Propaganda is their weapon of choice. They use it to distract us. To turn us away from what we really see. What is happening, it says, isn’t. And what isn’t happening is.
We know that authoritarian leadership has come to the USA. Thus, we should be afraid for the future. But, the leadership says, don’t be afraid of us. Instead, be afraid of our enemies. Refugees, Latinos, Muslims, Jews. They are scary. But, follow our lead. We will protect you.
Robert Bowers followed their lead. He targeted both Jews and refugees.
Kaddish for Pittsburgh
Kaddish. Literally, it means “making holy.” It’s also the name of the Jewish prayer of mourning.
Kaddish does not mention death. Instead, it focuses on hope. “May the ideal world be created today,” it says. Also, “God is beyond all religious models.” And, finally, “May the sublime peace of the highest heaven also fill the earth.”
Maybe that’s why the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it on the front page. One week after the shootings. Day of the last funeral. Maybe the editors did the math. Hate + love = hope.
What else is there to say?